Third country to discover coffee after Ethiopia and Yemen, India is considered by experts to be a "great origin", celebrated for its vintage coffees. Indian coffee offers a unique aromatic signature that combines balance, softness and roundness, enhanced by some characteristic spice notes. These are the same characteristics that define Araku coffee, the result of real teamwork combining the meeting between Indian farmers with ancestral know-how and passionate coffee experts. This meeting gave birth to a healthy, simple product, respectful of Man and Nature, made exclusively from biodynamic plantations, cultivated by hand in small plots. The cultivation of coffee in a country traditionally turned to tea is an unexpected “socio-economic miracle”. It is also more organic and fairer than any other, thanks to the training of farmers in biodynamics and the creation of an acceptable and social economic model.
THE ARAKU VALLEY, BETWEEN SEA AND MOUNTAINS
In eastern India, on the highlands of the Eastern Ghats overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the Araku Valley, located in the mountains of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, stretches over more of 350 km2. Listed as a Protected Nature Reserve since 1995, the Valley is recognized for its purity, biodiversity and fertility. In the local language, Araku means "red earth". The unspoiled ecosystem of the Valley is ideal for growing coffee. Thanks to its high altitude climate - hot during the day, cool at night - and a soil naturally rich in iron, Araku is a land allowing slow maturation which gives coffee both its body, its intensity, its aromatic richness and its candy. To reach and enter this valley, you have to make your way between the coffee trees, the lianas, the mango trees because the forest is so dense and steep. Shaded by silver oaks, mango trees and eucalyptus, the coffee plantations are now spread over more than 520 villages. From November to early February, the villages of the valley are in turmoil. The coffee cherries are harvested and the fruits are picked, one by one by hand, as soon as they are sufficiently full of sugar. More than 10,000 producer-farmer families are hard at work to carry out this titanic work, at the top of these high plateaus.
IN RESPECT OF ANCESTRAL KNOW-HOW
The farmers of the Valley come from ancestral tribes and cultivate their soil as their parents and grandparents did before them. Their agriculture is healthy and on a small scale. It is designed in harmony with nature and based on manual labor. No machines and no chemicals are used. To go even further in this respect for nature, David Hogg, expert in agriculture and biodynamics, introduced farmers to the principles of biodynamic cultivation. To achieve this, it was not a simple thing. If everyone was already practicing agriculture without knowing it was organic, full of common sense and respectful of the environment, David Hogg and his team had to gain the trust of the farmers, but above all of the tribal chiefs. They had to be helped to recreate a rich soil and reforest a forest that had been deforested for several decades by English and Indian colonies. The goal: to revive a natural ecosystem. In a few months, several million coffee trees have been planted. In a few years, some twenty million other species have been installed such as papaya, eucalyptus, cashew trees, ... Thus, today, we can say that wherever there are trees on the mountain, there are coffee plantations. In a few years, the landscape has changed and constitutes an extraordinary ecosystem..
THE LARGEST ORGANIC COFFEE PLANTATION IN THE WORLD
To achieve this result, this real rebirth of the Araku Valley, biodynamic culture has had to adapt in addition to the flora and fauna to local beliefs and customs. Making their own compost with cow dung enriches the soil or even organic herbal decoctions from their vegetable patch, while also respecting the lunar calendar. So with the waning moon, the farmers work the land and plant. As for the ascending moon, it is suitable for harvesting and germination. The merits of these practices in the Araku Valley allow the coffee trees to produce exceptional bean qualities.
Araku is today the largest certified organic and biodynamic farming coffee plantation in the world. Invented by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 and considered the organic culture of tomorrow, biodynamics is a set of natural methods to promote the quality and health of crops. Man and nature work together to nourish and support plants at each stage of their development, at the heart of a healthy and balanced ecosystem, in harmony with the cycles of living things. Thus, the Araku coffee trees thrive in the best possible conditions. And the coffee they produce has a unique flavor profile. Araku is also a business, a project that was imagined and created by its own farmers. All owners of their plots and independent producers, they decided in 1999 to federate in a cooperative to replant coffee trees, a crop that was present when they were children and which had since disappeared. It is a fair trade company that brings together more than 10,500 farmer entrepreneurs, in 520 villages, thanks to the commitment of Manoj Kumar of the Naandi Foundation. A factory has even been built to receive the best grains from the whole valley. Hippolyte Courty, a French caffeologist, has identified six terroirs producing original coffees with distinct characters. He closely monitors the traceability and the production quality of these different “vintages” like a good wine. Thus, we find Les Grands Classiques with Signature, Sélection, Grande Réserve coffees and Specialties namely Micro-Climat, Première Récolte and Haute-Altitude.
MARKET CONSTRAINTS HAVE BEEN SURVIVED
Today, Araku coffee offers coffees for all palates and for every moment of consumption. With a graphic, clean and colorful design reminiscent of the bright and joyful colors, symbols of Indian energy, the small brand is forging an identity as a high-end outsider in a market long trusted by Ethiopian and Brazilian cafes. or even Colombians or by giants like Nespresso. The establishment of a lasting and fair link with the producers of the valley was very quickly successful. Initially, most of the coffee was first sold to roasters all over the world. Then the cooperative decides in 2015 to launch its own brand Araku which will be sold by the French market and by internet before opening a shop in Paris in January 2017. Selling coffee in a short circuit, from producer to consumer was the crazy gamble that this cooperative of Indian farmers succeeded. They have thus bypassed the constraints of the world market. Three million coffee trees are now planted in the valley, producing 40 tonnes each year, 30 of which are sold under the Araku brand in France and India. More than 10,500 farmers, each owner of their own small plot, work the coffee. Araku, the engine of social development in the valley over 15 years, has improved the income and living conditions of farmers in this valley, as well as the development of educational and medical infrastructure.
In March 2021, Araku opened its second store in Bangalore, India: The Araku Coffee Café. On a space of more than 1500 m2, in an elegant, modern and refined setting, designed by the architects Jorge A. Zapata, New Yorker and Shonan Purie Trehan of Delhi-based Labwers for the interior, the philosophy of Araku coffee is reflected in the design and very decor of the place. The first of its kind in India, the Araku Coffee Café offers a sensory Bar where the aroma of freshly ground coffee with Chef Rahul Sharma's inspired dishes from Japan, the Mediterranean and South Korea revive the taste buds.
Along with a wide range of coffees and dishes, Araku Coffee Café is home to the Araku World Specialty Coffee Academy, the world's first SCA-certified specialty coffee school. Everything is being done so that Araku Coffee is more and more established in the world of high-end coffee by weaving its web, by increasing its distribution network and by training the young people of the Araku tribe on site with international professors
FARMERS MASTERS OF THEIR DESTINY
In the Araku Valley, farmers all own their land, their production tools and the 3 million coffee trees planted as carbon offsets with the financial support of the Livelihoods fund. Interview with Manoj Kumar director of the Naandi Foundation *
LMGC - How did the Araku adventure start?
Manoj Kumar — When we arrived in Araku in 1996, the Valley was remote from everything, in extreme poverty, marginalized from the rest of India… We had come to build schools for the tribal people. But in doing so, we have bonded with the people of the valley. The farmers told us about their living conditions and their hopes. Many of them had an acre of land ceded by the state, but their land was infertile because they lacked the skills to grow it. The old coffee culture in the valley had almost disappeared. More than 100 species of trees and plants had also disappeared in a few decades ... We then asked ourselves: how to allow these farmers to regain their dignity and their autonomy, without depending on anyone? How can we help them regain the fertility of their soils? This is how our idea came to us: to offer them support so that they themselves restart coffee production in the Araku Valley. Support them to become experts.
LMGC - Quel a été votre programme d’action ?
Manoj Kumar — First, of course, we had to gain the trust of the community, and convince them that we shared their desire to be stewards of their forest and nature. Then our first step was to give the farmers back the power over their land by training them in biodynamic agriculture and coffee growing. Second, we explained to them the advantage that they would have to come together in a cooperative to produce and sell coffee. At the beginning, there were 1000 to follow us in our idea. Today there are 10,500 and Araku is the largest biodynamic coffee cooperative in the world. It’s their dream that has come true.